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Canucks might have only 11 forwards for season opener

The Canucks sent down Vasily Podkolzin and called up Akito Hirose on Wednesday.
After getting cut during the preseason, Akito Hirose was called up for the Vancouver Canucks' season opener.

The Vancouver Canucks' opening day roster won't be their opening night roster.

Thanks to injuries and some salary cap shenanigans, the Canucks might not have a full lineup when they take the ice Wednesday night against the Edmonton Oilers. After practicing with only five defencemen on Tuesday, the Canucks chose to swap two waiver-exempt players to at least give them a full slate of defencemen, even if it left them short a forward.

Vasily Podkolzin, who was expected to start the season with the Abbotsford Canucks in the AHL when he was cut from the roster during the preseason, was sent back down to the AHL. He had only been called up in order for the Canucks to get as close to the salary cap as possible to maximize their LTIR relief.

In his place, the Canucks called up defenceman Akito Hirose. 

"You need brains out there and he has them."

It's likely that Hirose will be in the lineup Wednesday night, as defencemen Carson Soucy and Guillaume Brisebois are both injured. Brisebois took a high hit from Seattle Kraken forward Brandon Tanev near the end of the Canucks' preseason game in Abbotsford, while Soucy suffered a suspected knee injury in their final preseason game against the Calgary Flames.

Head coach Rick Tocchet didn't outright rule out Soucy from playing but he was not on the ice with his teammates for the Canucks' game-day skate. 

Hirose getting called up may come as a surprise after he played just one preseason game before getting sent down to the AHL but he has one thing going for him that his competitors for a call-up — Matt Irwin and Christian Wolanin — don't have: he's exempt from waivers. While Irwin or Wolanin could have been called up on an emergency basis with Soucy and Brisebois injured, Hirose's waiver-exempt status gives the Canucks some flexibility.

Tocchet gave another reason for calling up Hirose, however.

"Hockey IQ," said Tocchet. "You're playing a team in Edmonton that throws a lot of different looks at you. You need hockey IQ. Obviously, you want people who can squash plays, I get it, but there's certain setups that they do, you need brains out there and [Hirose] has them."

Hirose is expected to play with Noah Juulsen on the Canucks' third pairing, while Quinn Hughes pairs with Filip Hronek on the top pairing and Ian Cole skates with Tyler Myers on the second pairing.

The young defenceman is hoping that he can make a better impression in the regular season than he did in the preseason.

"I thought I was alright," said Hirose about his preseason. "I think I left a little bit on the table. I'm going to take advantage of this opportunity and try to make it hard for them to send me back down."

Skating with 11 forwards could trigger rare rule in the CBA

While the Hirose call-up ensures they have six defencemen, they're likely to only have 11 forwards.

The Canucks had 12 forwards on the ice for Wednesday's game-day skate but one of those was Ilya Mikheyev, who still isn't ready to play after his knee surgery in February. 

"He's progressing," said Tocchet of Mikheyev. "He's obviously looking close, he's been working really hard."

The Canucks are short a forward, even after trading for Sam Lafferty over the weekend, as Teddy Blueger is currently day-to-day with a bruised foot. While he didn't skate with the team in the morning, he did skate on his own and there's a chance he still plays on Wednesday night.

"He's a heart-and-soul type of guy," said Tocchet of Blueger, "but I don't want to jeopardize him. So, we'll see how he feels later. We've got six hours."

If the Canucks skate with less than a full roster on Wednesday night, they would be able to call up a player on emergency recall who would be exempt from the salary cap. The rule is in Article 50.10(e), named the Roster Emergency Exception: if a team plays a game with fewer than the minimum 18 skaters and 2 goaltenders, they can call up a player with a cap hit no more than the league minimum plus $100,000.


In other words, if the Canucks play with 11 forwards in their season opener, they can then call up a player with a cap hit of no more than $875,000 without affecting their salary cap.

Among the forwards in Abbotsford, that excludes Aidan McDonough, Nils Åman, and Linus Karlsson, who all have a cap hit above $875,000 per year. The most likely candidate to get called up is Jack Studnicka, who had a strong preseason performance for the Canucks but was a late cut. 

Canucks lines against the Oilers

As for Wednesday, unless Blueger makes an unexpected recovery, the Canucks will face the Oilers with the following lines:

Andrei Kuzmenko - Elias Pettersson - Conor Garland
Phil Di Giuseppe - J.T. Miller - Brock Boeser
Dakota Joshua - Pius Suter - Anthony Beauvillier
Nils Höglander - Sam Lafferty

Tocchet admitted that it can be a challenge rotating lines with 11 forwards.

"You've gotta really be strategic," said Tocchet. "Lafferty can play centre, which is good — I like the fact that we have a lot of hybrid guys who can play wing and centre — so he can spell Miller and Petey and Suter."

Still, Tocchet doesn't think it will affect the players too much, particularly with everyone well-rested and with two days off before their next game.

"Some guys are going to play 20-22 minutes and they can handle them," he said. "I'm not really worried about that. Sometimes guys play better when they get into the game more. I don't think you want a steady diet of it but, for a game, it's okay."